Confidential settlement ends Caritas suits

Associated Press/April 7, 2005

A confidential settlement has been reached in a lawsuit against the Caritas religious group by former members who claimed they were brainwashed and drained of assets.

The settlement, mediated by Birmingham lawyer Arthur Hanes Jr., also settled similar suits involving Caritas in federal and state courts in California and Florida.

Terry Colafrancesco of Shelby County, near Birmingham, founded Caritas as a resident organization after a 1988 visit from an Eastern European woman who reported visitations from the Virgin Mary in Colafrancesco's cow pasture.

The visions were similar to those she reported experiencing for two decades in her homeland.

Marija Pavlovic Lunetti has returned periodically over the last 17 years and reported more visions. Her last visit, in May, drew thousands of people from across the country, and donations flow to Caritas from around the world. Lunetti is scheduled to return to Caritas in August.

In a lawsuit filed in 2001, several former Caritas residents and parents of residents accused Colafrancesco and Caritas of fraud, misrepresentation, undue influence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment.

They claimed that Colafrancesco enticed devout Catholics to Caritas and then drained their assets.

Caritas' lawyer, Daniel Burnick, told The Birmingham News for a story Thursday that "all litigation between the parties has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved. The terms and conditions of the resolution are to be kept confidential, as agreed on by all parties."

Burnick confirmed that the settlement also included suits brought against Caritas by California anti-cultist Phillip Kronzer, who was bankrolling the Shelby County action, and countersuits against Kronzer brought by Caritas.

"I'm glad it's over," plaintiff Laura Flynn said from her Michigan home. She said the parties to the suit were forbidden to discuss the terms of the settlement.

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